Ah, Easter! “Spring is sprung and all the little birds do hum.” Cute bunnies. Easter egg hunts. Yummy chocolate candies. I’m not a stick-in-the-mud that would love to punch Santa Clause in the stomach and serve the Easter bunny for today’s feast. But the problem is that if we reduce the important Christian holidays to be associated with fakelore, fables, and fairytales we’ve missed the central fact, the truth.
Thomas Arnold at Oxford, known as one of the best historians, examined the history of Jesus and concluded, “I have been used for many years to study the history of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is better proved by fuller evidence than the great sign that God has given as that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” This is why Paul tells Timothy in his letter, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.”
So what are some of the good pieces of evidence given for the bodily resurrection of Jesus being truth? First off, the words written about Jesus are trustworthy. Some say that because there are the differences in the biographies of Jesus, we call the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), which critics call inconsistencies, therefore they are unreliable. There is a courtroom term for four stories that are exactly alike. It is called collusion and that means they worked together on stories because they are trying to hide something. When four stories are identical, they worked too hard to make something up. When the witnesses have their own flavor of the same story along with differing details that build a more full picture of a story, that is called credible reporting. This is exactly what we see in the bible.
Here are some of those details. Did you catch who first went to the tomb? The women. Then two of the closest disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, ran to the tomb. Jesus didn’t appear to them. Mary remained at the tomb and Jesus appeared to her first. If the disciples wanted to build a credible story, they would not have reported this. In the first century when this was written, the woman’s testimony was not valid in the court of law. If they were going to perpetuate some hoax, that would be the worst plan. They wouldn’t have shared the details about the women’s report, unless that is how it happened.
Did you catch what happened after the disciples heard the report from the women? They didn’t believe it at first. And they wouldn’t believe it till they saw the risen Jesus for themselves. You will hear more about that next week.
More witnesses would also mean a better report as well. Paul wrote to a church in the ancient city of Corinth, which we read part of this morning. In the previous paragraphs to that section (1 Cor. 15:14-19), Paul mentions that the very-much-alive Jesus appeared to 500 people at a time, most of whom were still alive. In other words, “You don’t believe me, go ask them.” This is when travel was easy, cheap, and safe. The resurrection was verifiable and not a hoax.
All of us should be able to see that they didn’t do a good job at cooking up some hoax. There is no event in history that has more proof or has better written accounts than the life, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus.
This is not the type of scientific experiment proof. I can’t prove the resurrection of Jesus in a laboratory like gravity. I can jump up and down to prove gravity. I can’t prove that Julius Cesar triumphed in the Gaelic Wars. I can’t prove that Abraham Lincoln spoke his Gettysburg Address. All I can do is show the evidence. If you don’t believe the resurrection as real fact, the burden of proof is not on me, it is on you.
Since Jesus did die and rose, we have the great hope of Easter. The one who died for you, is the one who reigns. Easter changes the way you view religion, yourself, your purpose, and death.
Most other religions are systems of beliefs in which the adherents to a religion follow the teachings, not to the person. Take Buddhism for example. The Buddhists except the teachings of Buddha but they don’t adhere to the man. Christianity is different. Yes, he handed down teachings but he also gave himself. Paul doesn’t say, “Remember Jesus’ teachings.” He said “Remember Jesus.” There is one leader of a world religion that was dead and lives. Christianity is not just a way, it is the way to have access to God. It is not a religion where you can say, “I like what it teaches in a, b and c but not in d, e, and f.” If Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, wouldn’t you have to accept all of it? If he didn’t, you shouldn’t accept any of it. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.
How does this translate to you? Some say, “I come to church because it’s the right thing to do.” Wrong. Why do we come? Because a living Lord promised, “I am with them when they gather in my word.” We come to be close to him, not to adhere to his teachings. He even lets you touch his body and blood so that you might be in communion with, having a relationship with the king of creation. Christianity is more than a body of teachings, but a real person. The resurrection changes the way we view religion.
It also changes the way you view yourself. What is it that you do to validate your worth? For some it is work You put in countless hours to advance and to prove you are valuable. For others it is your family. You are going to have a perfect family with perfect kids and that proves you are valuable. For more of you is physical health. You run miles, you work hard, you pump iron. Or you think that you have less value because you don’t do all that. Still others think of your value on how much you can contribute. This happens more with the elderly and disabled than anyone else. You don’t know why God has you here, why you are still valuable because you can’t contribute or do as much as you used to do. All of us have some way to validate our worth as a human. You do that because you know deep down inside that there is something wrong. God created us for perfection but that’s not who we are.
So you use your validation tool to help cover up what’s wrong. “I have made mistakes but do you see what I do at work.” “I have made mistakes but my family needs me.” That doesn’t change the fact that we have made more than mistakes, we sin. The mistakes you’ve made don’t eat at you but the sins you did on purpose.
But the resurrection changes that. We have one who lived the perfection we couldn’t live. Jesus had no sin. He died the death to pay the price for sin. He not just died but he died ugly because that’s what our sins are. He did it to pay for all of it. All your sin and guilt was on him. Then the resurrection proved that the payment was perfect.
You are as valuable as what people will pay for you. People judge the worth of something by the price they are willing to pay. I could be dragging something I don’t want to the curb when my neighbor calls out, “I want that.” To which I respond, “Oh yeah, how much will you pay for it?” A moment ago, I would throw it out, but now I’m willing to get something out of it. Something is worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. If Jesus was willing to redeem you, with nails, blood, thorns, torture, and a cross of humiliation, then you must be valuable, regardless of your career, the cleanliness of your home, if you have a 6-pack or a 12-pack, or if you can spring out of bed like you used to when you were in your 20’s. The resurrection changes how you view yourself.
Easter changes your purpose. If death is an end, what is the purpose of life? What does it matter if you cease to exist after death? Why make any sacrifice for anyone if you die and there is nothing more? If there is no Easter, then life is pointless. If Easter is true, then it shows that God cares about things. He cares about hunger, the environment, the issues of today. Easter shows that God has a place called heaven where there are no problems. When you connect people with Jesus, you are giving them a place in heaven. When you connect people, you do so much more than help people in their puny problems here, but you connect them to eternal perfection. You have great purpose when you connect people to Jesus.
Easter changes your perspective on death. Death is not final. It is not the end. It is not even bad. It is not a horror. Death is a rest. We get a final relief of the pain and suffering. Jesus is going to wake you up as easily as you wake a child from a nap. All those people who died in faith, are not lost. You will see them again. They are not gone forever. You have not lost anyone but you have gained them because they are safe eternally.
Once upon a time, there was a cute little bunny who delivered chocolate eggs to little children who were poor. The children ate their eggs and smiled for a day. But then they got hungry and ate the bunny. A fairy tale makes you smile for a moment but truth gives you joy for a lifetime. There is truth that goes beyond all fairy tales. It is the truth that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, died and rose to save you. That truth changes everything. By possessing the promises of Easter, you have an amazing life awaiting. Not just in heaven, but every day leading up to that great day. Because you have value and purpose through Jesus Christ. It starts today. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Amen.
Pastor Josh Bishop – 4/21/19